Over by the National Christmas Tree there is a Santa’s Workshop where children can line up to visit Santa Claus and have a picture taken. I don’t have kids but when I visited Saturday night, the view through the window was a cozy, picturesque scene of a jolly old man smiling as he held wide-eyed children on his lap, and I had to get a photo — which, of course, came out blurry in the dark.
As I was fiddling with my ISO settings an elf-suited girl told me, “You can’t take photos through the window, the flash will just reflect off the glass and distract Mr. Claus.”
“Thanks,” I replied amiably, “I have flash off.”
“Well, you still can’t take photos!” said a man by the exit, bodily moving to block the window. I believe he may have been trying to sound intimidating, but it came out as more obnoxious than anything else. Not wanting to make a scene, I said nothing more, put away my camera, and walked off in a huff.
This is sounding a bit like Union Station’s photography “policy,” isn’t it? Santa’s Workshop at the National Christmas Tree is provided by Underwriters Laboratories, an independent organization (whose Safety At Home site, ironically, encourages you to friend them on Flickr). The workshop sits on National Park ground, and I was exercising what I believe is a First Amendment Right in public space, right in front of the White House, no less.
In retrospect, I should not have allowed myself to be scared away by the hired goons of Underwriters Laboratories. I liked the scene of Santa Claus in the window, and getting a photo of that scene threatened no one’s rights or safety. It’s a sad, sad thing when, at Christmastime, on the very doorstep of the home of those sworn to protect our freedoms, there are some who think they can bully those freedoms away just because they think some people shouldn’t be allowed to preserve a holiday image.
Update: I love Twitter. A response from UL’s Safety at Home: Really sorry to hear you had that experience, we will check into the policies at Santa’s workshop. Not sure whether that’s a yes or no from them on photos in public places, but at least we know they’re listening. (Have I mentioned I love Twitter? You should add us.)
Update: I received the following more comprehensive reply from UL’s Safety At Home people who run Santa’s Workshop:
We’re sorry to hear that you were disappointed by your experience at Santa’s Workshop.
We have had very few problems or complaints arise, and things have been moving along smoothly. Last a couple of parents complained to the Kodak team when they noticed strangers taking photos of their kids with Santa. They felt their privacy was being compromised. Because of this, the team/elves are asking adults not to take photos of Santa through the Workshop windows. Furthermore, adults taking photographs through the windows create a bottleneck in front of the building and block the large “safety tips” panel on the façade of the building. We think that the “no photo” policy is sound because it allows the families to have a pleasant experience at the Workshop, it keeps the area safe for the visitors and the line moving, and it permits the UL safety tips to be read by the public.
Since the Workshop has proved popular with single adults (or groups of adults without kids), the Workshop staff is allowing adults to tour the structure before 6 PM since the crowd is lighter and they can accommodate the adults without getting in the way of the families. We spoke with the staff today about your comments and emphasize that when they discourage adults from taking photos, they should also welcome them to come back and tour the Workshop/take photos during the day.
Please let us know if you have any other questions or concerns.
-The Safety at Home team